Published on: March 24, 2023

Waste-to-energy plants

Waste-to-energy plants

Why in news? The Kerala government recently announced the State’s first waste-to-energy project in Kozhikode called as Project Kozhikode.


What do waste-to-energy projects do?

  • Waste-to-energy projects use non-recyclable dry waste to generate electricity.
  • The process increases the State’s power generation capacity and eases the solid waste management (SWM) burden.

How waste to energy plants generate the power ?

  • Generally, solid waste in India is majorly consist of biodegradable organic waste, that can be converted into organic compost or biogas.
  • Followed by non-biodegradable dry waste and silt, stones, and drain waste.
  • Of the non-biodegradable dry waste, only 2-3% — including hard plastics, metals, and e-waste is recyclable.
  • The remainder consists of low-grade plastic, rags, and cloth that can’t be recycled.
  • Waste-to-energy projects can consume only non-recyclable dry waste.
  • They are also expected to use segregated non-recyclable dry waste which is the only type of waste with a sufficiently high calorific value.

Why do waste-to-energy plants fail?

  • The low calorific value of solid waste in India due to improper segregation. The calorific value of mixed Indian waste is about 1,500 kcal/kg, which is not suitable for power generation.
  • Biodegradable waste has high moisture content and cannot be used for power generation.
  • Segregation (ideally at the source, if not at the processing plant) of dried non-recyclable dry waste should be streamlined to ensure the waste coming to the facility has this calorific value.
  • High costs of energy production as the cost of generating power from waste is around 7-8/unit, while the cost of buying power from coal, hydroelectric, and solar power plants is around Rs3-4/unit.
  • Many waste-to-energy projects have failed because of improper assessments, high expectations, improper characterisation studies, and other on-ground conditions.

Way Forward

  • Setting up waste-to-energy projects is complex and needs the full support of the municipality, the State and the people.
  • To overcome its various challenges, the municipality must ensure that only non-biodegradable dry waste is sent to the plant and separately manage the other kinds of waste.
  • Importantly, the municipality or the department responsible for SWM should be practical about the high cost of power generation, and include the State electricity department, perhaps as a tripartite agreement between the municipality, the plant operator, and the power distribution agency.
  • It is also crucial to conduct field studies and learn from the experience of other projects.